I picked something called the Audiobyte partly for its name, partly for its description, and partly because it comes from a little company near where I live here in the Great White North. The Axiom Audio Audiobyte Luxury PC Speaker System (below) delivers 55 W per channel, 110 in total, probably 10 times that of most such devices. Hardcore video gamers will go crazy, but video editors will like it, too, since it will enable us to hear our work much better.
Comprising two high-end, ultra-compact speakers plus a dedicated stereo amplifier and optional subwoofer, each enclosure contains a 1" titanium-dome tweeter and 3" aluminum-cone woofer with good 100–20,000 Hz frequency response and 8 Ohm impedance.
The speakers sound good, and they are designed to look good, too. The speakers come in seven different finishes, from synthetic metallic matte to burled lacquered walnut. The matte black amp fits on a shelf, desktop, countertop, or beneath a desk.
The self-contained Audiobyte system boosts the listening experience of not only PCs, but Apple iPods as well. The amp has a USB plug, both to play music and to charge the device.
BeBob On-Camera LEDs
If you didn’t get the Audiobyte as a holiday gift, too bad. Maybe you got a cool new LED on-camera light from 16x9 and bebob instead. Lucky you!
The Lux-LED-DV with variable focus range is a terrific little light. Five high-output LEDs are arranged for smooth, stepless variable focus at an angle of 40° to 60° on the unit. Its output is fully dimmable too, with daylight color temperature at full saturation. Light-emitting diodes are very energy-efficient, and bebob takes it one step further with power-efficient DC regulation so the light can operate at multivoltage inputs (from 6.5V to 28V). It can run directly off standard Canon BP, Panasonic CGA, or Sony NPF L camera batteries. There’s also the dimmable, focusable Lux-LED, used on board a camera, handheld or stand-mounted, without the need for extra accessories or brackets. It can also tilt up and down or forward and backward, bringing extra light and shadow control. The Lux-LED’s dimmer knob is helpfully integrated into the base handle.
New Panasonic AVCHD
Bigger companies like Sony and Panasonic have been busy, too. Each has significant new additions to their respective HD camera lineups that you must know about.
Panasonic’s new AG-HMC70 AVCHD camcorder is not yet available, but even when it ships (April is the target) it will still probably hold the title of the first shouldermount, point-and-shoot AVCHD camcorder. And the marketers could have even added "presentation device." The HMC70 uses three native 16:9 progressive 1/4" CCDs for recording (or, interestingly enough, providing a live feed in) widescreen 1440x1080 HD resolution. The latter feature is an awesome upsell at weddings and receptions, or when covering sports and other events that require on-site video presentation.
The camcorder comes with a 12X wide-angle zoom lens, one-touch auto focus, and optical image stabilization (hence, the point-and-shoot), and a 3" 16:9 flip-out LCD.
Sensibly, it does have pro audio capabilities including two XLR inputs with attenuation (Mic/Line switchable), +48 V Phantom Power, and both auto and manual level with Rec level dials.
Of course, it can take stills—even while recording video. Whatever it records, it does so onto SD/SDHC memory cards, in much the same manner as the HVX200 and HPX500 (see Ben Balser’s HPX500 review) and other cameras based on the company’s solid-state P2 HD production system. No deck and no extra transfer time from tape to computer. With larger-capacity cards always coming out, there could be some great savings there, especially given the efficient encoding inherent to the H.264-based AVCHD codec. You can shoot in one of three recording modes: 6Mbps, 9Mbps, or 13Mbps. Using a 16GB SDHC memory card (already out), you get up to 360 minutes at 6Mbps quality and up to 160 minutes at 13Mbps.
What’s more, because SD card content can be played back on more and more HD flat-panels, projectors, and PCs, there are some other creative delivery and presentation options. AVCHD content can also be played back on one of many Blu-ray set-tops, and on Sony’s PS3.
If you don’t use the SD card reader, you can connect via the camcorder’s USB 2.0 port or HD/SD component and composite (BNCs), HDMI, and RCA jacks.
New Panasonic HD/SD Switcher
Those of us who do live switch and multicam productions might take a look at another new Panasonic product, the AV-HS400 multiformat switcher. It should be shipping now, supporting both HD and SD video formats like 1080i, 720p, and 480i. Optional upconversion boards will also be available.
The switcher’s unique MultiViewer lets you output 4, 6, or 10 images, from different cameras or sources, to a single high-resolution display. The switcher also can be used to send a multi-image display to large screens in a reception hall, house of worship, or sports venue.
Sony’s Next-Gen HDV
Sony’s next generation of HDV gear, due to ship in February, includes two new camcorders, the HVR-S270U and HVR-Z7U, with interchangeable lens systems (1/3" bayonet-mount or using available 1/2" and 2/3" adapters) and increased low-light sensitivity (1.5 lux) that bring a lot of added flexibility and capability.
Sony is also introducing the HVR-M35U playback and recording deck, having already announced the PMW-EX1 XDCAM EX and the soon-to-be-available HVR-HD1000U shouldermount HDV camcorder.
The HVR-S270U (shouldermount) and HVR-Z7U (Z1-size handheld) offer 1080 60i, as well as 24p with pull-down recording modes (24, 24A) like the HVR-V1U. They also provide 24p and 30p native recording.
They switch between HDV 1080p and 1080i, as well as standard-def DVCAM and DV recording, both can downconvert material from 1080i to 480i, and simultaneously output the video signals via the i.LINK (aka FireWire) interface and other SD outputs. The new camcorders use three new Exmor 1/3" ClearVid CMOS sensors and EIP technology to create the 1080p images, recorded as native progressive signals by the camcorders in the HDV format. The progressive HDV streams can be output from a FireWire connector.
Each camcorder comes standard with its own 12x high-quality, multipurpose Carl Zeiss HD lens, or a specially designed 8x wide-angle lens available as an option. A new focus ring offers two types of manual focus, plus an auto focus mode that can be easily switched by sliding the focus ring forward or backward.
The new camcorders have multiple recording options: Depending on your need or preference, you can choose the ability to record to MiniDV or standard-size DV cassettes, as well as (when using a supplied memory-recording unit) Compact Flash cards, or both. Using the i.LINK connector, external recording devices can be added, too.
The HVR-M35U recording and playback deck supports standard- and mini-size DV cassettes, of course, and it has added functionality for the busy video shop with a built-in LCD screen and mono speaker for copying video and audio from another VTR.
Gefen PVRs and More
Perhaps it is because I have had to do so a couple of times recently, that I am a little preoccupied with presenting video while taping live events. A switcher makes perfect sense, and a camera does, too, in a way; how about a PVR that live switches and displays? Available in HD and SD versions, the new Gefen PVRs enable one-touch recording of audio/video from one of four sources, switching between those four sources, and sending images from the PVR to a main display.
The unit can convert analog A/V signals to the HDMI digital format (HD PVR only), so it is compatible with a wide variety of external sources.
There’s a built-in 80GB hard drive (HD PVR only), for up to 17.6 hours of programming at 1080i resolutions. The PVR features SD and USB support as well.
With roles to play at home and at work, this PVR is a different sort of offering from Gefen, a company known for its cables and connectivity solutions, such as the handy new 2X VGA extender. When you need to show the same video on two displays in a remote location, as I did, this send/receive system will help: It supports resolutions up to 1080p or 1920x1200 from as far as 1,000 feet.
Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.